Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel: Big Data – Huge Promises, Small Insights?
(Public and Non-Profit Management and Finance)

Thursday, November 12, 2015: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Johnson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Ines Mergel, Syracuse University
Panel Chairs:  Ines Mergel, Syracuse University
Discussants:  Valerie H. Benson, Abt Associates

Institutionalizing Big Data in the Federal Government: Key Issues
Jane Fountain, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Big Data and its implications for the public sector are increasingly important questions for public managers on all levels of government. Following this year’s conference theme “The Golden Age of Evidence-Based Policy”, we suggest a panel discussing how the use of Big Data analytics and interpretations can provide public managers with innovative decision-making capacity that can be combined with the existing data analytical approaches. Big Data has become both an industry buzzword, as well an increasingly important subject in many different policy areas. For our purposes, we define Big Data as Internet-enabled data that is created on a daily basis by human subjects through their online interactions, as well as by sensors embedded in static objects such as buildings or moving objects, such as cars. Many different public administration and public policy fields are currently reviewing practical applications to harvest Big Data in real time and combine it with their administratively collected data sets. An important aspect of these huge data sets, collected at the time they are created in unfiltered form is to understand possible methodological challenges and new analytical opportunities. In addition, Big Data collection and analysis poses challenges on the public sector due to its unique context: issues, such as intellectual property rights, anonymity and privacy protection laws, or the analysis and reuse of personally identifiable information have not been resolved yet. This panel is designed to (1) examine the relationship between existing theory and Big Data, (2) consider the particular public sector contexts – social, political, economic, and managerial – that makes use of Big Data for public purposes quite different than use of Big Data for private gain, (3) explore the potential for Big Data to surface new problems through inductive inquiry that is still theoretically informed and grounded. The first author will present insights from a recent review of Big Data thinking in the public sector highlighting the opportunities for innovative real-time analytics. The second author will address methodological challenges in the data collection and analysis of Big Data in the public sector. The third author will review some of the challenges of using big data in US federal bureaucracies.